WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told Telemundo Tuesday that the future of immigration reform comes down to the decision of one man: House Speaker John Boehner.
"The only thing that's holdin' it back right now is John Boehner calling in to the floor," Obama told Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart in a wide-ranging interview, "because we've got a majority of members of Congress, Democrats, and some Republicans, in the House of Representatives, who would vote for it right now if it hit."
Immigration reform, a top White House priority for Obama's second term, stalled in the House after a bipartisan bill moved out of the Senate earlier this year. Though issues like Syria, looming fiscal deadlines, and a long congressional recess kept a comprehensive immigration reform package off the front burner in Washington, Obama said success for reform proponents could still come this year, if Boehner decides to act.
"Everybody should be focused on making sure that that bill that's already passed out of the Senate hits the floor of the House of Representatives. It's not as if the votes are not there. The votes are there," Obama said. "The only thing that's preventing it is Speaker Boehner's decided that he doesn't wanna call it right now."
For months, Boehner has said he will not send the Senate-passed immigration reform bill to the House floor, a move that appeases conservatives in his caucus who oppose the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants contained in the legislation. House Republicans have promised to produce their own reforms, but they'd rather do it in pieces rather than in one comprehensive package like the Senate did. Obama has signaled he won't sign reforms that don't create a pathway to citizenship.
The president told Telemundo he's open to a piecemeal approach to immigration reform from the House provided the result is a path to citizenship.
"We need to make sure that employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers, that they are penalized. We've got to improve our legal immigration system so that people aren't waiting for years to get into the country when in fact we should welcome them And finally we should have a pathway to citizenship," Obama said. "And if those elements are contained in a bill, whether they come through the House a little bit at a time or they come in one fell swoop, I'm less concerned about process, I'm more interested in making sure it gets done."
On other topics, Obama defended the economic speech he gave Monday while there was still an "active scene," in the words of police, surrounding a mass shooting at a D.C. Naval facility. Critics questioned the timing of the economic speech, but Obama said it was necessary given the rapidly approaching deadline to raise the debt limit. Obama addressed the shooting at the beginning of his economic remarks.
"I think that everybody understands that the minute something like this happens, I'm in touch with the FBI, I'm in touch with my national security team, we're making sure that all the assets are out there for us to deal with this as well as we can," Obama said. "On the other hand, what is also important to remember is — is that — Congress has a lot of work to do right now. We don't have a budget that's passed. We're hearing that — a certain faction of Republicans, in the House of Representatives in particular, are arguing for government shutdown or even a default for the United States of America, losing our financial credibility around the world if they don't get 100% of what they want."
"I think it's very important for us to understand the urgency that we need to see out of Congress to go ahead and keep this recovery going, put people back to work, make sure that we're building the middle class and providing ladders for people who are willing to work hard to get into the middle class," Obama said.